Cold, Wet, Beautiful Washington (Days 132 to 139, Cascade Locks to White Pass)
Start: Cascade Locks
End: Dirt road 4 miles before Trout Creek
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 25.3
We had a difficult night’s sleep in the PCT hiker area of the campground, what with the dozens of hikers camped nearby, the whipping wind, and the motion-triggered spotlight that was 20 or so feet away from our tent. So many hikers in town for Trail Days, which officially begins later today – I don’t think anyone else hiked out this morning. When my watch alarm went off at 5 and we climbed out of the tent a half hour later, we were the only people awake in the whole tentsite. It was very peaceful, and we got first dibs on the bathrooms, so we were feeling pretty good as we rolled out around 6:15, heading out of town.
Our first stop today: Bridge of the Gods! This bridge marks the state line between Oregon and Washington. It’s also where Reese Witherspoon in the hit movie Wild finished her hike. Pleased that we were more fit than Reese, we climbed the small hill up to the bridge and began the walk across! There is no pedestrian lane, so we had to watch out for cars coming up behind us, but between the cars we were able to snap a few photos. So exciting to be in our final state of the trip!!
In high school science class you may have heard the saying “what goes up must come down”. Well, in the thru hiking community, we flip it – what goes down (to town), must go back up (to the mountains). We climbed from an elevation of 77 feet above sea level all the way back up to 3,500 feet today. I way overpacked on food again for this stretch, a mistake that only became apparent when we began the climb.
Washington has a reputation for being wet, and our first day in the state delivered. It was raining (well, mostly spitting) on us for most of the day. And it was cold! When we stopped for lunch, I put on my rain jacket, not for protection from the rain, but because I wanted to retain some body heat. I actually ended up hiking in my rain jacket for about half the day.
Sweet, sweet solitude on trail today! All of the party hikers in a 100 mile radius have been sucked into the vortex that is Trail Days. What is left on trail are all the hikers who had the opportunity to go to the festival, but specifically chose not to. As Mango said earlier today, “these are our people!” We passed almost no one on trail after the morning SOBOs heading into town. Not a lot of NOBOs out here either, but we really enjoyed spending time with the hikers still out here. We saw our friend Spurs for the first time in a few hundred miles (maybe since NorCal?), and we met 2 other hikers named Leftover and Sugar with whom we spent a few breaks.
We made our 25 today, but it was a long wet slog – we didn’t roll into camp until close to 8. We ate dinner with Leftover and Sugar, and we had a good time reminiscing about how terrible parts of the White Mountains were on the AT (looking at you, Wildcat). We’re camped on an abandoned dirt road tonight, so it’s nice and flat. Based on our speed today, I think we will wake early again tomorrow, and try to make good miles early in the day.
Start: Dirt road 4 miles before Trout Creek
End: Crest Camp Trailhead
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 9.6, then 10 mile road walk
We decided to sleep in today, to help make up for the bad sleep and short night in Cascade Locks. Nice easy trail to begin the day, all smooth and downhill to Trout Creek, where we found some weekenders out walking their cat.
We quickly cruised the 9 miles to Panther Creek Road, where we turned left and started to road walk an alternate. Sometimes we need to spice up our trail life, and we had heard there is a big waterfall along this alternate. So, we decided to go check it out!
The falls were definitely worth it – lots of loud, fast-moving water. There were a surprising number of cars driving by, but we realized it was a Saturday, so it makes sense folks would be out.
After we left the falls, we were hailed down by 2 guys at a roadside campsite. They were playing loud music, had a beer pong table up and were having a good old time. The two had met PCT hikers earlier in the day (which turned out to be our new friends Leftover and Sugar), and had enjoyed their company so much that they were now on a singular mission to provide as much alcohol as possible to thru hikers. They had me and Mango do celebrity shots on their beer pong table, and I’m proud to report that we both sank our shots, and were rewarded with a white claw for the road. What nice guys!
We reconnected with the trail after about a 10 mile road walk, at a nice car campsite with a pit toilet and picnic tables. It’s so cold tonight! Mango and I were both shivering at 6pm as we climbed into our tent for the night. It’s a nice early bedtime, but I’ve got frozen fingers as I type this, so this will be a short post today. Mango asked if I think this is a cold snap, but I think this is just Washington – cold and wet. And it’s only the third week of August. Imagine what it must be like to finish a thru hike in early October.
Start: Crest Camp Trailhead
End: Trout Lake Creek
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 26.0
More rain rolled in last night, on and off. Although many hikers cowboy camped or camped without their rain flies in California and Oregon, I think the safe assumption from now on is that rain could come at any time. We were up at 5 and out by 6, ready to pull a big day to set ourselves up for a nice nearo into Trout Lake tomorrow.
Within the first few miles, as soon as we got near the top of the first ascent, we entered the clouds and it began to rain and gust with wind. It was terribly cold. We were both hiking in our puffy jackets and our rain coats, though that couldn’t save our poor feet – there was so much rain on the low-lying brush, it all dumped on to our lower pants and shoes, which quickly led to extremely wet shoes and socks. At our first water stop of the morning, we sheltered from the wind as I wrung out my socks. A stream of brown water came from each. This was going to be a nasty day.
There were 3 redeeming qualities of an otherwise cold, wet and some would say irredeemable day. The first is that another thru hiker learned of Mango’s trail name, and once again she was unsolicitously bestowed with dried mango, which she happily ate.
The second was some incredible trail magic we hit around 17 miles into our day. The trail had been very smooth, and honestly we were too cold to take breaks. So we just kept hiking hard all morning. We had cleared 17 miles by 1:30pm and found Daryl and Yusef cooking up turkey hot dogs for hikers along a forest service road. It felt so good to eat something warm! I used the cover to air out my soaked feet, and Mango scored some smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel. Incredible, we caught them right before they packed up and left after a busy weekend serving hikers, so I’m glad we hiked so hard and caught them.
The third is that, late in the day, we found about a thousand of these tiny frogs crossing the trail. Look how cute they are! They must have just hatched!
We got to camp around 5:30, having cleared 26 miles impressively fast (well, impressively fast for us, I guess). We spent some time hanging out eating dinner with Leftover and Sugar, but the cold eventually chased us back into our sleeping bags for the night. My feet are a soggy mess and I have no more pairs of dry socks. I have to admit, I assumed Washington would be cold and wet, though I don’t think I expected it to hit this quickly. But we go to town tomorrow morning, where a laundry machine awaits!
Days 135 and 136
Start: Trout Lake Creek
End: Forest Service Road 23 / Trout Lake
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 5.0
Another freezing cold night, and it was really difficult to wake up with the 5am alarm. But we really wanted to reach the road for a hitch before all the other hikers from our campsite arrive. It’s never a good look when a car drives by to have 10 hikers looking for a ride!
Fortunately we were the first to the forest service road. No luck hitching, but at 8:30 a car arrived and about 10 piled out. This was the 8:00am shuttle back from Trout Lake, and the driver Doug was happy to give us a lift down the mountain back to town. We were in town by 9 to begin our luxurious nearo-zero!
Trout Lake is an very small but incredibly scenic mountain town. After canceling our stay at Trail Days last week, we decided to take a zero in Trout Lake instead. As we sat at the local cafe and ate breakfast with Leftover, Sugar and Goldilocks, I was so happy we decided to spend some time relaxing here – the day was the first nice day we’d had since entering Washington, and while some hikers would rather be productively using the time to torch out miles, Mango and I are still happy to be milking our time in these cool little towns.
The local store has a nice hiker-hangout spot on the side of the building, so we moved there after breakfast and spent a few hours organizing our mail drops and chatting with the other hikers.
Mango disappeared for about 20 minutes, and came back to the table carrying a peach and berry pie (baked by one of the women working the store) with candles on the top. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention – today is my 31st birthday! We passed the pie and ice cream around to the other hikers, and bought a few 6 packs of Oregon hard cider for the group. What a birthday party!
Mango also treated us to a fancy hotel for my birthday, and it was probably the nicest hotel we’ve stayed at on the whole trail. Such a sweet little rural spot, with a full breakfast provided and use of 2 bicycles to pedal the mile to the general store and cafe. On our zero day we made a trip to town to buy some frozen pizzas and burritos, then cooked it all up for dinner. Best of all is that the hotel had an outdoor hot tub set to 105. Scorching hot, and excellent for my poor sore muscles.
All in all, we’re so psyched that we got to spend some time here in Trout Lake. Future hikers take note, you will be tempted to blow through and make it to White Pass without stopping. Be sure to stop in Trout Lake! There aren’t many trail towns out there that are so friendly and beautiful!
Start: Forest Service Road 23 / Trout Lake
End: Forest Service Road 2603
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 22.2
We woke to our alarm at 6 and sadly packed up. Mango noted that the luxuries of town are getting harder and harder to leave, and even I have to admit she’s right. We scooted over to the kitchen for breakfast at 7, and I ate continuously for 30 minutes until we had to begin the walk at 7:30 back to town for our 8:00am shuttle back to the trail with Doug, the same older gentleman who had shuttled us in a few days ago. As we climbed out at the trailhead, there were 12 hikers waiting to hitch into town – this is obviously the bubble who hiked out of Cascade Locks after trail days last week. I committed to myself that we would push miles in the coming days to try to stay ahead of this lot. I’m sure they are wonderful people, but I just don’t want to fight for campsites or hitches at this point in the trail.
I passed the first 3 miles speaking with another hiker named Meatgrinder, a 50 year old Air Force veteran who had just retired earlier this year. It was equally enlightening to pick his brain on both the Middle East and what it was like raising a family while maintaining a demanding career. These are the types of serendipitous conversations I’ve been missing over the past year during COVID lockdowns, and it’s one of my favorite parts of thru hiking – the sheer diversity of other hikers. We’re all out here walking the same ground, all equal in terms of the miles, but all so unique and with interesting stories to tell.
Our views this morning were commanded by Mt Adams, hazy in the morning light, but shooting into the air, always in your peripheral vision. There are many more peaks in Washington to come! Fortunately we just skirted the western edge of the foothills, because there were some massive glaciers up on the mountain which would have required real mountaineering gear to traverse.
After eating lunch with a few hikers traversing around Mt Adams through the various interconnecting trails, we reached a surprisingly dirty and raging Adam’s Creek. The water was brown, silty and smelled strongly of sulfur. This creek is what drains Adams Glacier. Maybe I’m spoiled from the Sierra, but aren’t mountain glacier melts supposed to be pristine, beautiful streams? Isn’t there a water bottle brand named Glacier that specifically uses this as a marketing a schtick? If you tried to bottle this and sell it, I think the FDA would send in a task force to take you down.
And of course, the trail continued to provide stunning views of Mt Adams, before eventually winding its way north and back under tree cover.
We reached Lava Spring at about 6pm, having cleared about 20 miles reasonably quickly after our late start from town. We took some time to filter water and check out the cool lava formation. The spring water gushes cold and clear from a massive pile of lava boulders, super cool!
We pulled up to a forest service road trailhead about an hour later and decided to call it a day. Sometimes you camp next to beautiful wild vistas, and sometimes you camp next to a Volkswagen Pissat. We’re not too upset, though, because we’ve set ourselves up for a mid-20s day tomorrow to get us to the base of the legendary Goat Rocks Knife’s Edge for sunrise the next day. Fingers crossed for clear weather!
Start: Forest Service Road 2603
End: Bushcamp a few miles shy of Knife’s Edge
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 23.6
I was pleasantly surprised that zero cars passed on the forest service road last night! We had a great night’s sleep, though it was freezing cold as we packed up this morning. Time to begin hiking each day with our filters in our pockets to prevent them from freezing…
The day remained chilly pretty much all day. Whenever we stopped for any breaks, we pulled back out the puffy jackets. It also didn’t help that for much of the morning we were under dense tree cover, but after lunch, we began to climb and were treated to some beautiful views of the forested trail behind us. Looking forward we couldn’t see much more tree cover, so we were both excited at the upcoming views, and also slightly nervous because some dark clouds were beginning to roll in.
As we made our final approach towards Cispus pass, the views were almost unbelievably pretty. We could see huge sheer mountains, and all the way down to the valley many thousands of feet below. I was skeptical that this would be an impressive “pass” – after all, we hiked through the High Sierra a few months ago, so this shouldn’t hold a candle to those views, right? But hey, I’ll admit when I’m wrong. This is the prettiest valley since we left Yosemite!
With the dark clouds chasing us, we moved quickly over the pass and down the other side, which was equally beautiful. There were a million weekenders out (strange for a Thursday), and each site we passed was full already at 5pm. I was feeling slightly nervous as we wound our way around the rim of the valley – especially if there was weather moving in, I wanted to be under the cover of trees in a nice site tonight.
The dark clouds and light rain really moved in and descended to our elevation as we were hiking the last mile or so. We got to the final group of tent sites before Knife’s Edge that was still under cover of trees, and there were already 6 tents up in a tentsite marked for 3 tents. We poked around until we found a slanty spot where we could set up. Mango will be rolling into me all night, but at least we’re out of the rain. As we were setting up the tent the rain started coming down more substantially, so we dove in and ate dinner inside.
Well, I have to admit, I’m not optimistic that the clouds will roll out in time for us to hit Knife’s Edge tomorrow. But we’ll see what happens! If we don’t have any views, then that just means we won’t loiter, and we will zip on over to White Pass earlier and get to eat more food. Gotta look on the bright side, right?
Start: Bushcamp a few miles shy of Knife’s Edge
End: White Pass
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 20.3
I woke a few times in the night as rain moved in and out, and the wind rocked our tent. When we got moving around 6, we were surrounded by patchy clouds, which seemed to be burning off as the sun rose. It was very, very cold and we were hiking in all of our layers trying to stay warm.
As we curled around the exposed mountain ridges, we hit our first substantial snow field since we left the Sierra behind a few months ago. The views were insanely pretty as the clouds were blown in through a gap in the mountains.
As we approached the famous Knife’s Edge, we decided to hike an alternate up towards Old Snowy mountain. This is the old PCT, but was rerouted years ago to be shorter and easier for pack animals. Well, we were after the views, even if it was tougher and longer! As we ascended, we really got spectacular views of Mt Adams poking out above the clouds.
After a rough, rocky ascent, we took a snack break next to the shelter of some boulders. We could see Mt Adams back the way we came, Mt St Helens to the west, and Mt Rainer to the Northwest. These were the only mountains rising above the fast-moving, dense cloud cover. But as we ate, the clouds started to lift, providing us with crazy pretty views to the North.
Since we did the hard work of ascending the old PCT, we got an early start on Knife’s Edge, a section of trail that traverses a very skinny saddle. We felt like we were on top of the world as we hiked above the clouds, with Rainer in the background. All too soon, though, we descended back into the clouds, and were thoroughly socked in for the next hour, with ice cold winds freezing our fingers and noses.
We got off the Knife’s Edge, having traveled 4 miles in 3 hours. We were way behind schedule but weren’t upset – the views up top were worth the delay. But it quickly became clear we weren’t going to make it to White Pass in time to collect our mail drop from the store (which closes at 6). Our new plan was to just make it down in time to eat at the pizza restaurant, which closes at 7. Thankfully the clouds burned off and the trail flattened out, so we were able to hoof it and make up some time.
Guess who we ran into today, after 1,400 miles apart – our friends Rental and Unicorn! We haven’t seen these two since the Walker Pass shitshow of a section way back in the desert, where I almost blew off the mountain in that windstorm. They decided to flip flop and have been hiking SOBO through Washington. Awesome to catch up with them! I can’t imagine a more energetic and optimistic person than Rental, and you need to have both in spades to complete a thru hike. It sounds like their journey has been filled with some sharp twists and turns, but they’re still out here crushing it.
We didn’t stop hiking for the last 8 miles of the day in an effort to make it to town in time for pizza, and I’m happy to report that we made it by 30 minutes. 2 pizzas and a meatball sub later, we were considering where to camp for the night, when Mango met a hiker named xxxxxxxx out in front of the general store who asked if we wanted to split a room with him at the nearby lodge. We fell over ourselves saying yes – mid 30s next to a highway vs nice warm hotel bed, it’s an easy decision.
And that’s it for this section! Now things start to get really rural – instead of towns, we’re basically hopping from ski resort to ski resort, with a hundred miles between each stop. This really is the final countdown. Only 3 more stops left until we reach the end of our hike. Actually, this may be the last post I can get up before we fly home, I’m not sure of the WiFi situation further North, and honestly we might be pushing hard to finish before the snow flies. So exciting!
Until next time, happy trails!
P.S. If you like this post, check out Mango’s trail podcast, Take a Hike!, now available on all major platforms (except Apple for some strange reason, probably due to my mother being really upset that this Apple podcast feed issue hasn’t yet been resolved. She keeps phoning the Apple campus and asking to speak to “Tim Apple”. I’m pretty sure Tim Cook has our podcast on some kind of official shit list at this point.) https://anchor.fm/takeahikepodcast
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